"Economic Development and the Environment"
on the Sakhalin Offshore Oil and Gas Fields II

Copyright (C) 1999 by Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University.
All rights reserved

Oil Spills: Lessons from Alaska for Sakhalin

Rick Steiner

This paper will present concerns regarding the potential for serious environmental impacts to result from offshore oil and gas developments currently underway off the northeast coast of Sakhalin Island, focusing on the Sakhalin II project. The environmental impacts expected from normal operation of the field and the very real threat of catastrophic accidents will be discussed. To understand and fully appreciate the potential severity of damage that could be caused by this development, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska is discussed.
The principal intent of this discussion is to help policy makers, industry, and the public fully appreciate the potentially disastrous ecological, economic, and social consequences of a major oil spill off Sakhalin, and to inspire the incorporation of extraordinary safety precautions in the design and operation of offshore oil development. This discussion then, is both a warning and a challenge to improve the safety of the offshore oil projects.
A Note about Environmental Activism in Democracies
A brief note regarding the importance of public involvement in Democratic government seems to be in order here. The very essence of participatory, democratic forms of governance is that citizens have not just the right to vote, but also have an obligation to become informed on issues affecting them and to express those concerns broadly and openly. Even if public opinion seems critical of particular aspects of society, it is incumbent upon government and industry to pay attention to it, and to adjust policies accordingly. Experience has shown that critical public opinion can have a very positive effect on proposed development projects. It is widely acknowledged that environmental concern in the United States in the early 1970s regarding the proposed construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, while vigorously demeaned by government and the oil industry at the time, ultimately lead to the construction of a better, safer system.
It is in this context that environmental activism in Sakhalin should be fully embraced, supported, and listened to by government, industry, and the public. It is in everyone's interest to do so. Certainly, a catastrophic spill on the Sakhalin shelf would not only cause extreme environmental, economic, and social damage, it would also foreclose further oil and gas development options now planned in the area. The political and financial repercussions to future economic development on Sakhalin would be enormous.
That Sakhalin Energy officials were present at and actively participated in the SRC Symposium in Sapporo is a hopeful sign. They should be applauded for their apparent openness and willingness to discuss critical public review of their operation. Collective problem solving is often a much more productive approach than the traditional adversarial approach.
Environmental Impacts of Sakhalin Offshore Oil Development
Description of Sakhalin II Project:
Sakhalin Energy Investment Company states in their EIA for the Sakhalin II project that phase I of the Piltun-Astokhskoe (PA) Field development will involve the drilling unit "Molikpaq" positioned on the sea bed in about 30 meters of water, approximately 17 km offshore the northeast coast of Sakhalin. The Molikpaq measures 111 meters square at its base tapering to deck dimensions measuring 73 meters square, and has accommodation for 104 people onboard. The sea level of the platform is reinforced for ice-resistance with a 8 meter high, 8 mm thick steel plating. Its core is stabilized with 190,000 cubic meters of locally dredged sand compacted by about 24 explosive blasts. Scour protection for the rig consists of a 20 meter wide sand and gravel collar along with a wall of hundreds of large boulders.
Phase I of the project will include 12 production wells ranging in depth from 2,700 meters - 5,000 meters, and 2 gas injection wells (to maintain reservoir pressure), designed to produce 90,000 barrels of oil/day and 65 million cubic feet of gas/day during the ice-free, summer season lasting approximately 6 months. In early July, 1999, the first oil production began at the site. Produced oil is transported from the Molikpaq through a 2-km long, 324 mm diameter pipeline on the sea bed to a Floating Storage and Offloading (FSO) unit. The FSO, the "Okha," is a newly built 158,000 Dead Weight Tons (DWT) double-hulled tanker with a low ice-class rating, with a loaded draft of 14 - 16 meters. The "Okha" is owned by SBM, Inc. based in Monaco, and it and the SALM are leased to SEIC. The FSO is anchored to a Single Anchor Leg Mooring (SALM) system, consisting of 4 steel pilings of 40 meters in length driven through the base of the mooring into the sea bed, a 250 mm loading hose and a mooring hawser connected to a swivel apparatus so the FSO can pivot around the mooring with the wind and current. This complex - the Molikpaq, undersea pipeline, SALM, and FSO - is collectively referred to as the "Vitiaz' Production Complex."
Transport tankers will load from the Okha. The SEIC terminal operation plan states that transport tankers in the size range of 25,000 - 250,000 DWT will be accepted at the Vitiaz' marine terminal, with cargo capacity up to about 2 million barrels. Tankers over 160,000 DWT are known in the maritime industry as "Very Large Crude Carriers," or VLCCs. Thus, some of the largest oil tankers in the world will be allowed to load at the Vitiaz' facility. SEIC states, however, that most transport tankers they expect to deal with will be in the size range of 80,000 - 90,000 DWT with cargo capacity of approximately 500,000 barrels. These vessels will load from the FSO approximately every 6 days during the operating season, and then transit off the east coast of Sakhalin to market, generally south to Japan, Korea, etc. If sufficient quantities of oil are found, it is expected that Phase II of the project would remove the FSO/SALM offshore terminal, and pipe the oil ashore and south to a marine terminal at the port of Korsakov on the southern tip of Sakhalin for loading onto transport tankers.